/ The Bakehouse Theatre

Bill Clinton: Hercules

I wanted to see this show because of a historical blindspot I developed in my childhood. You live through a lot of momentous world events before you are old enough to be politically aware, which you never really learn of as news. But because they're still recent events, relatively speaking, you never learn of them in history textbooks either. And so I was curious to experience a take on Bill Clinton which would fill in the gaps for me. He did, after all, preside over the Camp David Summit and the Kosovo War[1].

With a title like Hercules, though, you're being exposed to the possibility that this show will be more celebratory than balanced or critical. And to his credit, Clinton impersonator Bob Paisley (and indeed Clinton himself) anticipated that, wisely drawing inspiration from a play about four men at an impasse: Odysseus, the righteous indignant; Philoctetes, the spurned hero; Neoptolemus, the rational appeaser; and Hercules, the all-powerful adjudicator.

Clinton, it is explained to us, has been each of these men. And by following this line of thinking, Paisley is able to capture the contradictions of this man: his triumphs, his dreams, his weaknesses, and his failings.

But this is not exactly the historical exposé I was after. As Paisley does a serviceable impersonation of Clinton's voice and dress, but can't reproduce his physical stature or charm, Hercules fails to give us a rounded impression of the man's political life.

The show especially falls into the patronising mode when Paisley/Clinton talks in hushed tones of the Occupy movement, as if the former president were ever in a position to understand it. And this only gets more on the nose when the nuanced stand-off of four classical warriors, driven by their understandable needs and desires, becomes a dichotomy of justice and the people versus the evil forces of bureaucracy and corporations. Hint: if that dichotomy is real, the Clintons don't stand on the pretty side of it.

This is a fine monologue, which lives up to its claims of a TedTalk as delivered by the Bubba himself. But the presentation is too straight, lacking in analysis, and offers too few insights into the political dynasty which currently confronts us.

★★½


  1. Incidentally, this is partly why Sanders is doing so well with 18-30 year olds right now. They don't remember what Rodham Clinton accomplished as First Lady, but they do remember what she did as Senator. Hence they're hedging against her, as they did when Obama was her main opponent. ↩︎